In honour of freedom to dissent

In honour of freedom to dissent

S Raghunandana. M Sreedhara Murthy

The refusal of well-known theatre director and playwright S Raghunandana to accept the national Sangeet Natak Akademi award which has been given to him, in protest against the rising trend of intolerance and hate crimes, should again draw attention to the increasing vitiation of the social and political milieu in the country. Raghunandana has said that his action is not a mark of protest but a sign of despair, but a strong element of protest certainly underlies it. It is a sense of the futility of protests that gives rise to despair. Raghunandana is among many others who share this sentiment and have expressed it in various ways. Soon after the Modi government came to power in 2014, many artists and writers returned their Akademi awards in protest against the killing of rationalists like MM Kalburgi and mob lynchings, and against the atmosphere of intolerance and hatred which was at the root of these incidents. The government was not only seen to have contributed to the rise of this atmosphere but was also seen to be lax in taking steps to curb it. That was why awards and honours from official bodies and agencies were returned in protest. 

The atmosphere has become more vitiated in the last five years and protests have turned into despair. There are more lynchings and other hate crimes, hateful statements and campaigns and even encouragement and appreciation of those actions. The perpetrators of such crimes have been rewarded and honoured, too. Many policies and decisions of the government have increased the sense of insecurity among the minorities; its actions have sought to silence intellectuals and civil society activists working for various causes. That is clearly why Raghunandana has held the “powers that be directly or indirectly responsible” for the present situation. He felt that accepting an official award in this situation would be improper and would even implicate him in it by association. He has said that his conscience did not allow him to accept the award. 

Artists are in the vanguard of a society and its culture. They hold a mirror to it and respond faster and more sensitively to social realities, changes and movements than others. Raghunandana has pointed out that many activists and intellectuals are facing harassment and oppression because they are trying to uphold the spirit and values of the Constitution. His art and worldview developed in a milieu in which the world was seen as a single family and there was a different value system to guide life and art. His protest is against that world falling apart, and it should be heeded and taken seriously. Unfortunately, protesters and dissenters are maligned and persecuted, but that makes every protest particularly relevant in these fraught times.